In New York, the Future of Luxury Relies on the Balance Between Digital and Human

By Halina Loft

The Future of Luxury II: New Pillars of eCommerce conference debuted in New York on 22 May, hosted as a collaboration between Sotheby's and Jing Daily, a publication focusing on China's evolving luxury market. The event brought together top sellers, buyers, makers and thought leaders from around the world to consider notable trends and key motivators in the United State's thriving eCommerce market. Those in attendance were keen to discuss the changing definition of luxury, and discuss the direction the sector will take in the coming years.

Here are the key takeaways.

Defining Luxury Through Narrative

For brands, stories are the most powerful tool for driving engagement and attracting new audiences; but for stories to resonate, they need to be real and authentic.


"Traditional luxury was about creating a world outside of a world, but the future of luxury is about connection."Laurence Lim Dally, Founder and Managing Director, Cherry Blossoms Marketing Research & Consulting

Once, luxury was about escaping the hardships of the world. But today's luxury buyers want to be part of something bigger: a brand narrative that's unique, sought-after, and fueled largely by digital influencers.


"Don't forget the human."Jacob Metzger, Co-Founder, Grailed, Freelance Brand Strategist

With eCommerce, it's easy to focus on the data – but data can only give you so much. Remember that your buyer is human, and their motivations are grounded in reality. Digital is a powerful tool, but it should be used to amplify experiences in real life, not the other way around.


"What turns ordinary into extraordinary is the story."Josh Pullan, Deputy Managing Director, Global Jewelry & Watches Digital, Sotheby’s

A luxury product hinges on its underlying story – a story telling the inspiration, craftsmanship, materials, and real people who came together to create the item. And to be successful, this narrative must be an extension of the larger brand narrative and resonate seamlessly across both eCommerce and traditional retail experiences.

The New Landscape of Luxury: Experiential

It's imperative for a brand's image and the luxury experience it provides to translate equally across both online and offline platforms.


"Use offline to facilitate and add to online."Emma Chiu, Creative Innovation Director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

A successful eCommerce platform should take cues from how customers are interacting with the brand offline. Better yet, try to replicate (or at least echo) the real-life brand experience on the digital interface.


"eCommerce is an important tool, but it can't replace the sensory experiences that come with in-person luxury buying." – Michael Rock, Partner, Executive Creative Director, 2x4

ECommerce can be a very flat experience: sure, buyers can see the product, but they don't get to smell the luxury handbag or feel its soft leather. Given this, brands should consider supplementing their digital streams with real-life events that offer buyers a chance to have more holistic luxury experiences.


"A brand's mission statement is the most powerful component for defining its value." Noah Wunsch, Senior Vice President, Global Head of eCommerce, Sotheby’s

More than ever, it's important that a brand's underlying promise to consumers – its mission statement – directs every interaction company representatives have with buyers. For luxury brands, this is especially important: the mission statement becomes a touchstone for grounding the brand's direction, and it helps communicate the company's story to a new audience. Through this, the brand's reputation becomes more authentic, which in turn makes its products more valuable.

Licensed Collaborations with Western Luxury Brands

Licensed collaborations can add new dimensions of meaning and value to luxury brands.


"Collaborations between artists and luxury brands can be hugely beneficial to both parties."David Stark, Founder and President, Artestar

Partnerships are powerful marketing tool for driving awareness for an artist's work, and inviting a new sect of consumers to interact with a luxury brand.


"Be bold, and remember to have fun." – Adina Avery-Grossman, partner, Brandgenuity

Often, licensed collaborations bring genius artists together with powerful brands – but this doesn't necessarily mean the resulting products need to be serious. These limited-edition partnerships can be an opportunity to have a little fun with an artist's iconography, and experiment with a brand's signature products. What's more, this creativity will likely add to the product's value, making it ideal for collectors and resale markets.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's